Answering application form questions for management graduate schemes
Large employers usually ask you to fill in an online application before they’ll consider you for their management training scheme. Once you’ve picked a programme, clicked through to the form and (if required) uploaded your CV, you’ll probably find yourself staring at a page full of questions and empty textboxes. The questions will vary depending on the employer and the industry, but all of them will be designed to test your motivation for applying and your suitability for a management role.
How to answer management training scheme application questions
On average you’ll be allowed 200–300 words per question; you’ll need to decide how best to showcase your management skills and experience in the space allowed. The onus is on you to convince the recruiter that you’re capable of leading your own team. To help you out, here’s some advice on how to answer the most common management training scheme questions:
The employers you look at may all be hiring management trainees, but that doesn’t mean that the jobs on offer will all be alike. You need to make it clear that you’ve considered the practicalities of the role. If it’s a construction management role, for example, you should say that you’re happy to work outside in all weathers. Or if it's a job in tourism, you could point out that you have a passion for travel and are willing to relocate. See our sector guides for further advice. Wherever you apply, you’ll need to know about the trends, changes and challenges in that industry. Managers must have a natural interest in business and they must have sensible suggestions for improving the company. Take a look at our article on commercial awareness for help with this.
Recruiters want to make sure that you are genuinely interested working for them, as opposed to any other company. They can sniff out copied and pasted answers a mile off. Take a look at our employer hubs for information about individual employers and their recruitment processes. You'll need to give specific reasons for wanting to work for each company you apply to. Things to write about could include:
- The training scheme structure. How many rotations are there, for example, and do you get to choose your placements? Why do you want a place on this particular scheme?
- Does the company look for any particular skill or quality in its managers? Aldi, for example, states that their management training scheme is suited to 'resilient characters' while Majestic Wines looks for 'excellent customer service skills'. It will help your application if you can convincingly argue that you fit the organisation’s particular culture.
- Will the company provide support if you want to work towards a professional qualification?
The question is as much about you as it is about the company. Explain what you want out of your employer and how the training scheme would help you develop as a leader.
Broad questions like these give you a chance to tell the recruiter about any management skills and experience that haven’t been covered in other parts of the form. Recruiters will want to know that you are personable, but also that you’re capable of laying down the law when necessary. They’ll be looking for people who are good at planning projects, making decisions, motivating people and dealing with clients. They’ll want managers who are capable of taking the initiative and making decisions. Try to pull out examples from your degree course, part-time work and extracurricular activities. For example, can you think of a time at work when your manager was away and you stepped up to take charge of a tricky situation? If so, you can use that to show that you are decisive and that you can use your initiative.
Typical questions about your skills, also known as competency questions, include:
- Tell us about a time when you had success in building team spirit.
- Please describe a time when you have been responsible for sticking to a budget.
- Please give an example of a time when you led a team to achieve a ‘big result’.
- Please detail information about how you believe you have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in your work, academic or social life.
The first two questions highlight a particular managerial skill. The question about building team spirit is designed to work out whether you’re capable of motivating people to collaborate and get things done and the question about sticking to a budget offers you the chance to show that you’re numerate, financially aware and capable of prioritising. When answering these questions, don’t simply state what you did; identify the competencies that the employer is looking for and provide examples of a time when you have used these managerial skills.
Leadership is, in fact, a collection of skills and abilities:
- Understanding and knowing what you are trying to achieve (your target/objective)
- Planning ways to achieve your goal, taking into account any obstacles or constraints and identifying where you need expert or outside assistance
- Allocating tasks appropriately among yourself and others: making decisions and implementing them
- Giving clear direction and encouraging communication
- Monitoring progress, intervening when necessary but also trusting others to use their judgment
- Inspiring others
- Giving feedback and showing appreciation
- Meeting deadlines.
What makes exceptional leadership? Ultimately, it comes down to what you achieved. Exceptional leadership involves you reaching – or, if possible, over-delivering on – your initial goal. But it also involves ‘softer’, more subjective results. How successful were you as a people leader? Did your team work well together? How did you handle any problems or conflict? Did your team develop their own skills and abilities? Did they feel appreciated? Put simply: are your team still talking to you and would they work with you again?
Be discerning about the example you choose. If possible, pick something relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you were the treasurer of your sports society, and you’re applying for a job with a health club chain, it would be a good idea to write about that experience. Your ‘big result’ for the third question could be an event that you helped to organise, for example.
You might want to use the CAR model (circumstances, action, results) to structure your answers. Say you organised a competition to raise funds for a student society. The CIRCUMSTANCE could be that you had a time limit of one month and you had to work alongside the social secretary and general secretary to plan your competition. Next, you should explain the ACTION that you took. Did you find any sponsors and how did you decide what to charge for entry? Were there any competing priorities or disagreements within the team? If so, how did you deal with these? Finally, what was the end RESULT? Did the competition run smoothly? Did you achieve your aim – to raise money? Were there any unforeseen challenges you had to overcome? Was there anything you should have done differently? What did you learn about your leadership style and what managerial skills did you develop in the process?
Reaching the end
Once you’ve filled in your application form, you should ask someone to proofread it. You should also check your answers for tone, style and coherence; the ability to communicate in a clear, professional manner is important in any managerial role. Is the tone sufficiently formal? Have you smoothed out any gaps, inconsistencies or ambiguities? Have you answered the questions fully and concisely? If you can say yes to all of the above, then you should be in with an excellent chance of getting the job.